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REVIEW- "The Crucible," Attic Community Theatre

Attic Community Theatre & JD Theatricals presents the enduring masterpiece, “The Crucible, by Arthur Miller,” directed by Kathy Paladino, now playing at the Attic for another 9 performances, continuing March 23rd.

Written during the McCarthy era, Arthur Miller saw a definite parallel between the Salem witch trials of 1692 and the hunt for communists in America taking place during his own time. It became an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government ostracized people for being communists. Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended. His “The Crucible” accomplishes what he set out to do: show the socially justified violence that accompanies mass hysteria, initiated by those with self-righteous power, and what happens when opposition to that power is equated with evil.

Director Kathy Paladino creates an atmosphere and mood within the play reminiscent of the historical period of Puritan culture. The inhabitants of Salem lived in a restrictive society of religious intolerance. They considered material and physical wants — especially sexual desires — as the Devil's work and punished individuals publicly and severely if they transgressed. Ms. Paladino effectively captures the intolerance and religious fanaticism of the period, making the play feel urgent and immediate, and does so by refusing to hurry. The action’s willful slowness is often exhilarating, and the performances pulse with bruising physicality.

In the play, the author focuses on the discovery of several young girls and a slave playing in the woods, attempting to conjure spirits from the dead. Rather than suffer severe and inevitable punishment for their actions, the girls, led by Abigail, accused other inhabitants of Salem of practicing witchcraft. Ironically, the girls avoided punishment by blaming others of the very things of which they were guilty. This desperate and perhaps childish finger-pointing resulted in mass paranoia and an atmosphere of fear in which everyone was a potential witch. As the number of interrogations increased, a self-perpetuating cycle of distrust, accusation, arrest, and conviction emerged.

By the end of 1692, the Salem court had convicted and executed nineteen men and women, and even two dogs.

Robert Dill is John Proctor, the protagonist of the story, and a fierce and earthy farmer who has cheated on his wife, Elizabeth (Stephanie Garrison), with their servant Abigail. Now removed from their household, Abigail is bent on revenge. She pursues this with cool ingenuity, and Claire Epting makes the character utterly chilling. As Abigail creates the impression that unspeakable crimes and bewitchments have polluted their tight community, the hysteria that swirls around her is disturbingly profound and palpable.

Dill, at first smolders, all dark looks and muscular seriousness. Later he blazes, raging against the paranoid insanity that engulfs him — and also against his own fallibility. Meanwhile, Ms. Garrison brings a tense restraint to the role of Elizabeth, capturing her wounded sense of virtue. Their intimate moments together wrench the heart.

There is superb support. Eldon Callaway gives a magnificent enactment of Reverend Samuel Parris, the town minister obsessed with his reputation, frequently complaining that the village did not pay him enough, which earned him a great deal of scorn. When the trials begin, he is appointed as a prosecutor and helps convict the majority of those accused of witchcraft.

Other standouts are Abel Garcia, who vividly reimagines the role of Reverend Hale, the conscientious moralist who feels he must analyze every scrap of evidence, while Stacy Holmes impresses as the stern Judge Danforth, determined to eradicate witchcraft. The judge viewed the proceedings as an opportunity to cement his power and influence, and eagerly convicted anyone brought before him. His refusal to suspend the trials even as they tore Salem apart makes him the true villain of the play.

Mary (Claire Sparr), the Proctor family's servant, also impresses greatly. She initially helps John, but later turns on him to save herself. Thomas Putnam, played by Wayne Arnold, convinced us totally of his conniving greediness, and Angela Watson, a true actor in every sense of the word, gives a mesmerizing, and sometimes chilling performance in her role of Tituba, bond servant to Reverend Parris.

Many other key roles, too numerous to mention, also deserves the highest recognition. Basically a perfectly performed play, every actor on cue, every moment on point, every emotion felt personally - the whole production is a work of bold simplicity, yet grips you like the most complex thriller.

Jim Huffman’s spare design, along with his spot-on lighting was superb, which combined with a brooding sound that created a tormented, shadowy atmosphere. The digital projection which added greatly to the cold, woodsy ambiance of the moment helped reinforce the mood. And, although a running time of a little more than three hours may sound a bit daunting at first, “The Crucible” grabs you within the first five minutes, becoming a totally engrossing experience you project yourself into. It taxes the mind, yes… but also spears you right in the gut.

Chris Daniels Arts Reviewer


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